David Fisher

David Fisher is a senior reporter for the NZ Herald.

Greatest NZ Stories: Dream of pa helps Te Hana regain its mana

Reporter David Fisher and photographer Mark Mitchell travelled from Cape Reinga to Bluff in a Kea campervan meeting amazing Kiwis on the way. Over the next month we will be featuring their stories. Today's instalment features the $5 million pa built on a dream.

Thomas de Thierry at the pa which has dominated his life for 14 years. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Thomas de Thierry at the pa which has dominated his life for 14 years. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Thomas de Thierry had a dream which took about $5 million to become a reality.

He went to bed one night and woke up with pictures in his mind which have ruled his life for 14 years.

And here it is, he says, opening the gate into a pa built at the northern end of Te Hana.

At the heart of this story is another, with love, pride and terror - blood shed so richly it still stains the ground where it was spilled.

But first, there was a dream.

On March 17, 1999 Thomas woke and took note of the time. It was 3.17am and the images from a dream were fresh in his mind.

"I dreamed of an old pa. I dreamed that in the pa site were all my elders."

They sat there in traditional dress, carrying weapons from before Europeans arrived, and they were daring him to walk into the pa.

"I realised there was a black line coming into the pa. I didn't realise what it was. I looked down and it was children, laughing and smiling."

He looked up and there was a river, with two moored waka. On the other side of the river, there was a bus.

"I would share the story with everyone." He told it again and again. "Then one day one of our kaumatua stood up and said: 'Thomas, I am sick and tired of hearing that dream. Go and build it'."

Architect Linda Clapham, who had married into the wider whanau, came up with possible pa sites, and plans for the eventual building. They lobbied the then Rodney District Council and council land at the top of Te Hana was provided on a 99-year lease.

"We came together on the back of our social issues. Te Hana was a lost town."

The railway stopped years ago. Forestry went, then the dairy factory closed. Unemployment became a way of life for many, and crime followed as jobs became a thing of the past. Graffiti emerged as children lost sight of possibility and drifted, along with everything else in the town.

"Before we could build this, we had to tackle the social issues," he says.

In the years which followed, Te Hana underwent a transformation. Leaders emerged and the community was engaged. The river past the pa site was cleaned up, graffiti removed and opportunity created as the pa was built.

Thomas leads the way through the battlements, into the fortress and the whare where visitors are welcomed. It cost $4.5 million. "Everything you see here has been fundraised."

As they built it, a story emerged - the story of how Te Hana was named. Thomas, as he has done countless times before, unfolded the story for the latest visitors to the pa.

On the northern shores of the Kaipara Harbour, there is a place called Pouto Peninsula which was home to the hapu Te Uri O Hau. There was a woman called Te Hana who lived at one of the pa there, who was promised as bride to Rangiwhapapa, brother of the hapu's founding ancestor Haumoewaarangi.

The hapu was paid a visit by a group of Ngati Awa warriors, who had come from the top of the Oruawharo River, which leads to what is now Te Hana Creek, flowing past Thomas' modern pa site. Among them was a warrior who had heard of Te Hana's beauty and wanted to see it for himself.

As a woman promised to a prince of Te Uri O Hau, Te Hana was tapu and stayed out of sight of the visitors. The young man would not be denied, and bewitched her with a love spell (atahu). Ngati Awa returned home, but the magic remained.

Te Hana became entranced. One morning, she crept to the beach and, placing her cloak on a rock, set out with a slave to swim the Kaipara Harbour.

The slave drowned but Te Hana was found by Ngati Awa alone and exhausted on a beach.

"Meanwhile," says Thomas, "on the other side of the Kaipara, the chief she was supposed to marry realised she was missing. He saw the cloak and released what had happened."

He gathered his warriors and they set out across the Kaipara Harbour. "There were so many, the whole Kaipara Harbour was black with war canoes."

The killing which followed was extensive - so much so that Ngati Awa left the area and travelled to the southern Bay of Plenty, where they are based today.

Te Hana was taken back to Pouto Peninsula, where she married Rangiwhapapa, as was originally intended. "And they named this village Te Hana.

"That's how the town got its name."

So, the storyteller has two stories. There is the old story, told afresh, of how the town got its name. And there is his own story, of how the town got its mana back.

And they are both about Te Hana.

- NZ Herald

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